By Kathryn Varnes

Ireland is my favorite country. The people are amazingly friendly, spirited and they love Americans.

It is almost a cliché, but the Emerald Isle really is a patchwork of every shade of green – and then some – and each village or city has its own charming identity. Most visits begin in Dublin, as that is the site of the country’s major airport and largest city with some 1.2 million Dubliners living there. With outstanding history and endless sites and attractions, a family could spend days in Dublin. Chief among the must-see stops are the Guinness Brewery, Jameson Whiskey Distillery, the old town jail, Trinity College and its Book of Kells – but that only scratches the surface of a city with known roots dating back to the Viking raids of the early 9th century.

The Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery tours are staples of most visits to Ireland, and they do not disappoint. Just remember that “Guinness is good for you,” and “It doesn’t travel well,” and you will be a veteran of the tours and all of Ireland, for that matter. But don’t forget the free samples at the end, either!

Dublin is built around the River Liffey, and the Temple Bar area sits mid-city across its south bank.  Home to scores of the best Irish pubs and restaurants you could ever hope to visit, Temple Bar is known worldwide for its fish and chips, bangers and mash, potato pancakes, coddle – an Irish stew, mussels, salmon and, of course, Guinness.

Musicians can be seen and heard any given evening at pubs around all of Dublin, with Temple Bar hosting the most of them. The sounds of fiddles, bagpipes, banjos, flutes and more belt from doorways often too crowded to pass through; with one rule constant when you do find your way in – dancing, singing and a Guinness or Smithwicks (pronounced Smidicks) are a must!

As you would expect, there are many great hotels in Dublin. The Clarence Hotel, previously owned by U2 members Bono and The Edge, is a must stop for many visitors, and the staff graciously welcomes lookie-loo guests through the lobby. My two favorites, though, are The Shelbourne, which has hosted so many celebrities that there is a museum detailing it all. Across St. Stephen’s Green city park and near Temple Bar, The Shelbourne is the perfect spot for exploring Dublin. And, with a daily afternoon tea time (with champagne), it can’t be beat.

My other favorite lodging is the Intercontinental, which is about a 20-minute walk from town. Stately and all you would expect from a former Four Seasons property, the Intercontinental has large rooms, a beautiful courtyard and always the most stunning flowers in its lobby.

 Just an hour or so outside and due south of Dublin is County Wicklow, home of the Wicklow National Park and my very favorite place in Ireland.  Hilly, green – did I say green? — and perfect for exploring and hiking, the Wicklow area is like a fairy tale with the Powerscourt Estate at the center of it all.

 A former Ritz Carlton and still a Marriott property, Powerscourt is a former 13th century castle with such remarkable gardens that National Geographic lists it as one of the top three gardens in the world.

Once out of Powerscourt and the Wicklow Mountains, your options are many; north to Belfast, south to Waterford, west to Galway or back east to the center of it all, Dublin. Whichever way you may follow the compass, you will not go wrong.  For us, we have no qualms with going wherever it may point.